When I heard about the news about Bill Heard dealerships closing, my mind went into its historical mode.
Naturally, I thought about and regreted the hardships this will cause the more than two-thousand Bill Heard employees. I also thought of the advertising dollars that the radio, TV stations and newspapers will lose. Bill Heard dealerships spent a lot of money on advertising. But, at my age, I tend to put things into historical perspective.
I read in the Ledger-Enquirer that the company started in 1919. That’s a little before my time so I don’t remember any of that, but I do remember when the dealership was called Muscogee Motors and was located along automobile dealership row on 1st Avenue in downtown Columbus. It was on a corner and right next to it was Hardaway Ford, and across the street was Cliff Averette’s Buick and Cadallac dealership.
It was always a big deal when the new models would come out; large crowds would show up for the unveiling. The dealerships would paper over their show windows so no one could see the new models until the unveiling event. The dealers would even do things like having live music to accompany the event.
It was during the depression and a lot of people did not buy new cars, but it didn’t cost anything to look. My Daddy was a Ford man so that’s what I was. The closest he came to buying a new car after I was born was when he bought a 1939 Ford in 1940. I didn’t want him to do it because our 1936 model had a radio and the ’39 didn’t. Turns out he did the right thing to get a later model, because once World War Two started, Detroit stopped making cars and started making trucks and tanks and even airplanes.
One year, Muscogee Motors showed a short commercial movie on a screen set up on a wall of the dealership. That was before TV so it drew attention. However, it didn’t impress me because I didn’t think it had much of a plot. I was probably ten years old at the time.
I did switch to a Chevrolet later in life, buying a 1959 model in either 1960 or 1961, when I was working at WSB Radio in Atlanta. Fins were a big deal that year and that Chevrolet had a “cool” gull wing arrangement on its rear end. We enjoyed it.
But, I reverted to Ford when the 1990 Lincoln Towncar came out. That was some car. We took it to a lot a places including Texas a few times. It was great on the Interstates. I downgraded to a Mercury Grand Marquis, which I now drive. It’s pretty much a Towncar, but about $10 thousand cheaper.
A lot of comments followed the Ledger-Enquirer story, a lot saying Bill Heard got what he deserved because of his dealership’s selling tactics. I can only go by my own experience. I bought my only new model from Bill Heard, a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. I don’t remember any unpleasantness about the deal, and it was a dependable car that didn’t require a lot of repairs. I drove my family to the 1965 World’s Fair in New York City in it, which was a fun trip. It got totaled in a wreck after we moved to Columbia, South Carolina. We bought a 1966 Chevy in Columbia to replace it. It was our first air conditioned car. What was the first thing to go out on it and cost me a fortune? You guessed it, the air conditioner. But, get it fixed I did, because once you have an air conditioned car there is no going back.
I noticed one person said he was glad he wouldn’t have to hear annoying Bill Heard commercials on the radio any more. I can remember when I came back from WSB in Atlanta in 1961 to work as program manager for WRBL Radio and couldn’t believe those screaming, rapid-firing, loud sounding commercials. Listeners complained about them all the time. Finally, the station mananger got up the courage to ask the company to tone them down a little. The word came back that the spots were effective and the dealership was reluctant to change them, but it would tone them down a little. The station manager said he thought the new ones were not as annoying, but you couldn’t have proved it by me. However, Bill Heard spent a lot of money with the station and you just couldn’t argue with that.
On a personal level, I have always had a friendly and respectful relationship with Bill Heard, Jr. One of the last things I did as a news anchor before retiring was a transportration series that featured an interview with him. He was one of Columbus’ business leaders who worked hard for many years to get the city connected to the Interstate highway system.